Exeter City’s Under-18s began this season’s Youth Alliance South West division with a spirited display despite suffering a 2-0 to AFC Bournemouth U18s on Saturday.
Michael Dacosta Gonzalez opened the scoring for the Cherries after half an hour, while Andrew Sowden in the Exeter goal produced a number of decent saves to keep his side in it.
George Spencer went agonisingly close to levelling the scores in the second period, before Bournemouth’s Daniel Adu-Adjei sealed the win four minutes from the end.
Following an extremely productive pre-season regime, City’s Head of Coaching and Player Development, Kevin Nicholson, took his young Devonians to Canford Arena for a mouth-watering opening league fixture.
The Dorset club won the regional division last season, and they looked to begin this year’s campaign fully in the ascendancy when they put the visitors under numerous spells of pressure in the opening stages.
To their credit, however, the Grecians, despite missing some key personnel amongst their ranks, defended with plenty of spirit, and executed their game plan to near perfection by being aggressive and getting on the front foot.
Alan Connell's side broke through on the odd occasion, but the combination of some brave defensive blocks and a resilient Sowden denied, and rather frustrated, the home side.
That was until the contest reached the 30-minute mark, when the Cherries took advantage of an unfortunate slip from Exeter’s Liam Oakes. Dacosta Gonzalez dribbled his way into the 18-yard box before he finished low into the bottom corner to break the deadlock.
City up to that point had created arguably the majority of the better opportunities, and, despite conceding, they never lost heart and always looked to find a way to register their first goal of the new season.
But after half-time, the Devon team started to tire, which resulted in their opponents having the majority of the ball.
While Dacosta Gonzalez remained a constant threat and went close on two occasions, the best chance of the match’s second goal fell to Grecians forward, George Spencer.
Following good work down the right side between Mitch Beardmore and Theo Cutler, the striker fired an effort at goal which brought about a good save from Bournemouth’s Ollie Camis. The rebound saw Spencer send a header across the goalmouth before Cutler was unable to turn the ball in due to the awkward bounce on the angle.
If the away team wanted to take something back to Devon, that was the moment, as the counter-attack threat from the Cherries became more and more apparent as the game reached the final stages.
Eventually, with a swift break, the hosts doubled their advantage in the 86th minute when captain Lewis Brown teed up Adu-Adjei. The attacker's powerful strike gave Sowden little chance, and sealed an opening day victory for Connell and his men.
Exeter City’s Head of Coaching and Player Development, Kevin Nicholson: “Despite the defeat, I’m still really happy with the lads. For me, it was a really positive day, and a great indicator of where we are right now. The lads have been asked to play differently under me and Nicky Ajose in comparison to recent seasons, so the messages are coming from different coaches, but they are all trying to take it on board, and if they continue, then we’ll start to see more success as a team and as individuals.
“I think the staff and players would agree that Bournemouth didn’t not deserve to win, but we could’ve got something from the game. We did a lot of good things, and that performance will give all of us a huge amount of belief. I’d like to think that in a few weeks time, with a bit more work, we will see some really good football from the lads.
“We created five really good opportunities - three clear cut, and some just a pass away. It can be easy to blame defenders when you concede, but if a player is in front of goal, and doesn’t take the chance, that’s something that needs looking at just as hard, as both boxes in a match are really important. I want the lads to push themselves to be clinical. If you look at our last three opponents - Bristol City U18s, Swansea City U18s, and AFC Bournemouth U18s - they are all top sides part of successful Academies, and I think it showed just how clinical they are, not just with shots on goal, but with their final pass too. We are up with them on so many levels, but their timing and execution in attack is better than ours right now.
“We have been a little unfortunate that pre-season gave us a few injuries. Three players rolled their ankles in different scenarios, while Alfie Clark, who has been outstanding in pre-season, sprained his shoulder against Swansea. It is great that the Under-16s can come in and step up and show their worth in their absence. Liam Oakes was unflappable, and he plays with a real personality. He found himself against an excellent player, and although his slip for their first goal was unfortunate, for 90% of the game, he was there with him.
“We play Swindon Town U18s at home on Saturday. Traditionally they are physically strong, and a bit more direct than some of the others in the league. They are normally one of the stronger teams we face, but it is a good game for us to follow up with. I would hope we would be braver on the ball, because, if I had one criticism, we should have looked after the ball a bit better against Bournemouth, but, in truth, we should have more of the ball this weekend so we will be able to show more of ‘us’.
“We will start working towards being more ruthless and clinical, but, ultimately, it is about finding a balance, because, although it isn’t all about winning, it is about trying to get these players pro deals at the end of their scholarships, but, a win for them would provide them with further belief, and help us as coaches get to where we want to be with the entire squad.”
Exeter City Under-18s: Andrew Sowden, Liam Oakes, Scott Simmons, Jacca Cavendish, Harrison King, Pedro Borges, Gabriel Billington, Tom Dean, Alfie Cunningham, George Spencer, Mitch Beardmore
Subs: Theo Cutler